Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany
Deuteronomy 18:15-20; Psalm 111; Corinthians 8:1-13; Mark 1:21-28
A doctor bent over the lifeless figure in bed. Then he straightened up and said, “I’m sorry to say that your husband is no more, my dear.”
A feeble sound of protest came from the lifeless figure in the bed: “No, I’m still alive.” “Hold your tongue,” said the woman. “The doctor knows better than you.”
—Anthony de Mello in The Heart of the Enlightened (N. Y.:Image Books, 1989).
What gave Jesus His authority? Why did people listen to Him? He walked the walk of faith; practiced what he preached. He obviously cared about the people to whom he was trying to minister and was not in it, as other healers were, for money and notoriety. He was courageous and confident, yet humble and blessed. It is actually of great import that the demons he encounters know him right away. They fear Him, they know His power over life and death, know His light and they proclaim Him. Isn’t that an interesting thing? Jesus’ healing power, which comes from the Spiritual might of Almighty God, has the ability to change the world, but we must be willing to channel that healing, tap into it, if we are to be instruments of light and renewal.
So, by what authority does Jesus teach…or do anything that He does, really? He is His own authority, carrying with Him the power of God. He speaks His own truth, His own vision of the kingdom of God that rings with authenticity. And He heals, mostly the poor; he teaches, with confidence and purity; He prays, always; He turns conventional wisdom on its head (the woman taken into adultery, for instance, in John, for instance). Jesus always, when he claims authority at all, proclaims it in God’s name, and He carries God the Father with Him as He heals, exorcises demons, and, above all, proclaims our need to be saved by the Father he came from. All of this has convicted us, as followers of Jesus, of His authority.
But Jesus is not the only person to ever have claimed and exercised power or authority, right? There have been people have exercised it in very different ways, with brutality and violence, for instance, say like Hitler or Stalin or any scores of people throughout the ages. Like Dr. Nassar, the Olympic doctor just sentenced last week for molesting well over a hundred young women. So, power and evil can go hand in hand. It was white, mostly male power that allowed the systemic suppression and terrorizing of blacks in not only the south, from after Reconstruction into the 1960’s. Jesus came into a world that, like our own, was beset by evil and violence. We may not believe in demons, or even the reality of evil. But not believing in demons has not done away with evil, has it? Evil is alive and well no matter who we say we are.
So, the interesting part of today’s Gospel, one of them, anyway, is that the powers of darkness recognize Jesus. The one who destroys, the face and spirit of evil, asks Jesus if He has come to destroy the forces of evil. The forces of darkness fear the light, as has all evil throughout history, from Hitler, to the Ku Klux Klan, to men who use their power to control women or people of other races in an attempt to stay in power. Evil fears the loss of power and so uses violence, oppression, delusion and any other means to hold onto said power.
Jesus came into a world where the forces of evil and darkness were hard at work to keep people enslaved. Anger, fear, the lure of power and wealth, and so much more can be used as tools of evil and darkness. Jesus is the Light that shines in the darkness and His love and redemptive power will not allow evil to hide but would name it and reveal it to the world. Jesus does not allow the powers of darkness hide, no matter what form they take. Jesus the teacher and healer gives us the path to places of light – like the story of the woman taken into adultery in John – and those bright spots are a powerful antidote to the evil of the world. The redemptive and healing love of Jesus is more than a match for the power of darkness.
The powers of death that crucified Jesus, in the end, revealed themselves for what they were; unworthy of us, not worth the energy of our lives. Jesus’ life did not eradicate evil; it was the evil of fear that crucified Him. But by dying, our Lord and Savior has destroyed the power of death and evil over us. We must name evil where we see it and, thereby, take away his power by speaking with the authority and power of Jesus. Jesus has given us all the tools that we will ever need which is why it is so important for us to continue to engage Scripture and prayer in a thoughtful and serious way. In Holy Writ is the key to our understanding Jesus’ power, His overwhelming desire to save, heal, and know us. Let us draw near to the Holy One of God, whose authority commends itself to us, and shows us the pathway to heal the world in His name.